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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Movie Watch: Ong Bak 2

In almost every way, Ong Bak 2 challenges what makes a good movie.

Unfortunately, I think it loses the struggle in the end.

Essentially an ostentatious and extravagant backdrop to show Tony Jaa's martial arts skills, Ong Bak 2 is a "sorta" prequel to Ong Bak ... but to say that Ong Bak isn't required viewing couldn't be more of an understatement. It's a different time with different characters and ... oh look, elephants.

First - the good. The film is beautiful. Jungle fantasy sets with great production value provide some impressive eye candy even before the fists begin to fly. And the flying of the fists is seriously top notch. It reminds someone why these movies are technically challenging ... you have to make it look like Tony Jaa just dropped a can of whoopass on some stunt guy's neck without, well, killing said stunt guy. The action is intense and insanely well directed.

Second - the bad. The story is paper thin and cliche. Worse, there's an attempt to make said paper thin plot interesting by making it non-linear. Which fails pretty miserably for the most part. Characters are introduced and summarily dropped and at times magically created from nowhere.

What's odd, and equally annoying, about those bad parts is that they walk over the parts which might be interesting ideas for a kung fu film. For one thing - there is very little dialogue. Why should there be? This is a pretty basic revenge story with a lot of fighting in between. We didn't come for poorly dubbed explanations - we came here to see fists! There's this keep it simple philosophy at the core of the film which just lets the kung fu speak for itself.

Except, in the end ... it doesn't. Pretty and entertaining - the twisted plot distracts the viewer through much of the film and the otherwise climatic end actually turns into a confusing cocktail of moments. Not to mention that the (kinda spoiler) final cliffhanger appears to have for more to do with production funding and not storytelling.

It's fun - but not very good.

Still, I'd love to see a feature length action film with this sparseness to it. Heck, now that I think about it - I wouldn't mind seeing and hour and a half rendition of the hallway scene from Oldboy, but maybe that's just me.

Finally, the movie begs an interesting point against The Ebert Argument (that movies are inferior to film by the nature of their interactive format). If this had been a game with graphics that equalled that of the film, then the real complaint of such a review would be the length and not the plot. Course, that might just mean game reviewers care less about plot, but if the same story is told through different mediums and one is more entertaining than the other...

Anyway, not highly recommended - but fun nonetheless.

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